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Sarv Mithaqiyan / Staff photo by Sarv Mithaquiyan 

Metzeri Garcia, left, and Darius Garcia are ready to eat their ice cream. Both attend Lake Ripley Elementary School.

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Vaccination clinic helps rural communities care for their pets

To lessen the burden of pet care on low-income households, Hawk Creek Animal Shelter and Ridgewater College in Willmar partnered nearly a decade ago to provide low-cost, income-based vaccination clinics in Willmar and Litchfield in the spring and fall.

These clinics allow families who can’t afford to vaccinate their pets an option to keep their animals healthy and safe. Through the partnership, vet tech students, a certified veterinarian and the animal shelter provide a much-needed service to rural communities. The day of the event, cars with pet passengers lined up around the Meeker County Fairgrounds. According to Casey Rajewsky, Hawk Creek Animal Shelter director, the event garners more popularity every year.

“We typically have 100 animals show up,” Rajewsky said. “We’ve had a pretty steady increase each year. We ended up having to host the event twice a year because so many people were bringing their pets.”

Hawk Creek Animal Shelter’s services reach into several rural communities, giving pet owners a chance to learn more about annual vaccinations and vet visits. Rajewsky said Hawk Creek Animal Shelter services Kandiyohi and Meeker counties and the cities of Paynesville and Renville.

“We are the only shelter around here, and we want to help out as much as we can. We are about pets being happy and healthy.”

Dr. Allen R. Balay, veterinarian technology instructor and a veterinarian, carried a clipboard and signed off paperwork for each pet that visited the Meeker County Fairgrounds.

“I’ve got to have my eyes on each pet,” Balay said.

While groups of students gathered around tables to give pets vaccinations and a mini-exam, Balay watched as students interacted with the pets and their owners. Although the exams students gave were brief, the check allowed students to see if the pet needed to visit the vet.

“The clinic is wonderful,” he said. “It gives our students exposure to animals or breeds they may not be used to. One of our advisory committees told us that they need broader experience, and this gives the students that opportunity.”

Low-cost alternative

Getting a new pet can prove a daunting experience, especially when the cost of vaccinations, an exam, and spay and neuter procedures are considered. Balay said although some vets oppose low-cost clinics such as the one offered by Hawk Creek Animal Shelter and Ridgewater College, the event allows a chance for pets who may not go to a vet otherwise to get their recommended shots.

“Each animal gets a mini-exam,” Balay said. “It’s not thorough like a vet exam, but if a student notices something abnormal, they can recommend to the owner to take their pet in to get checked.”

The students have to participate in a clinic each semester, said Gabby Graves, a second-year vet tech student from Melrose, Minnesota.

“It’s really fast paced,” Graves said. “You don’t get to spend an hour with each animal.”

Last year, the vaccination clinic saw about 110 animals come through, Graves said.

“It’s really nice because it’s low cost,” Graves said. “I know vet bills are expensive.”

Getting pets to the vet

The clinic helps ease pet owners into a vet’s office if their pet is showing other issues, said Ashlee Anderson, second-year vet tech student from Cloquet, Minnesota.

“A lot of people come here because our prices are lower, and we can talk to them about going to a vet,” Anderson said. “The students also get more exposed to each dog because each one is different. We get exposed to dealing with owners, too.”

The mobile clinics, hosted in the spring and fall, offer distemper and rabies vaccinations as well as microchip services. The shelter posts updates online at to notify communities when it will host the next vaccination event. Sheeran Haas, Litchfield resident, brought her dogs Peanut and Lucy. She said when a person has multiple pets to care for, clinics like this offer an alternative to going to the vet.

“A lot of people have pets, and I feel this is a way to keep them healthy and safe,” she said. “When I had just one dog, I took him to the vet, but when I got married and my husband had a dog as well, I realized I couldn’t do what I’m supposed to do.”

Balay said the traveling clinic provides a win-win situation for everyone involved.

“This is a win for the community,” Balay said. “This is a win for the students. I love win-win situations.”

Is it time for Litchfield to talk turkey?

Although they haven’t been seen lately, a flock of turkeys is known to prowl the north end of town, generally following Jewett Creek. Whether Litchfield residents should allow these wild birds to get comfortable within city limits is a topic that may need to be discussed sooner rather than later.

“I don’t consider them a nuisance, but I could see where they would be, potentially,” said Tom Kersting, the business office manager at Davis Motors. Kersting said he’s seen the birds move through the parking lot of Davis Motors and cross Highway 12, stopping traffic (even semi-trucks) at times.

“So far it’s almost like entertainment as opposed to a nuisance.”

Many Litchfield residents may be aware of the turkey issues nearby Hutchinson has dealt with for several years. Currently, the city is dealing with 30-40 birds that routinely interrupt traffic and leave droppings everywhere they go. The city council’s discussion of the issue is ongoing, and solutions are few.

“The (wild turkey) population has started to reach its carrying capacity in places,” said Jeff Miller, an area wildlife supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Turkeys have proven to be adaptable as far as moving into those more urban situations, and that’s when the problem becomes a little more dire.”

It’s mostly dire for the cities that wind up having to deal with the issue because the DNR can’t offer much help in such situations. The agency does not trap or relocate wild turkeys. Relocating nuisance wildlife only relocates the problem, they say, and it leaves residents of another area to deal with the problem behavior.

The city of Moorhead, 160 miles to the northwest, has a rather large flock of turkeys they famously can’t get rid of. In February, the city council approved a plan to relocate a flock of 75 birds to eastern South Dakota. But the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks backed out of the deal once they learned the birds had been acclimated to humans. The city’s next step is unclear.

The DNR won’t lethally dispatch problem turkeys on behalf of the municipalities where they’ve become embedded either, but they will in some cases issue special permits and allow cities to do it on their own. The problem is that most cities, like Litchfield, have ordinances barring the discharge of firearms in most cases. However, police officers can use their own discretion.

Last spring in Rochester, 130 miles to the southeast, police made the decision to lethally dispatch a local bird after it aggressively chased a small child riding a bicycle. The bird was well-known in town and had been harassing traffic for quite some time. Locals had even given him a name: Jake.

Further muddying the issue is the fact that not everyone considers encroaching wildlife to be a nuisance. A recent online poll conducted by the Hutchinson Leader confirms this. When asked whether Hutchinson’s resident turkey population was a nuisance, the 249 respondents were split about half-and-half on the issue.

Many people like watching the turkeys and enjoy the natural aesthetic they bring. Some go so far as to try and attract the birds with food, and therein lies the most likely source of nuisance turkeys.

“Wherever the food is, that’s usually where conflict increases with people,” said Miller. “Bird feeders seem to be the most valuable targets as far as turkeys go.”

Officials from the DNR agree that abstaining from feeding wild turkeys is the most effective way to prevent them from reaching nuisance status. In order to effectively show wild turkeys that they aren’t welcome in an area, however, a community must be unanimous on the issue.

When turkeys do begin lurking around within city limits, as they have been in Litchfield, it’s best to be assertive in letting them know they aren’t welcome. A broom is a good tool for anyone not comfortable confronting a wild turkey unaided. A good soaking from the garden hose is another option, and a dog on a leash is effective as well.

“If they’re perching on our cars and doing some damage, like scratching them or something, then it might become an issue,” said Kersting of Davis Motors. “But so far I’d say it really hasn’t been.”

While turkeys don’t appear to have reached nuisance status in Litchfield yet, there may be a lesson to glean from cities like Moorhead, Rochester and Hutchinson. The lesson is that once these wild birds get a foothold in town, they typically don’t leave without drastic intervention.

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One-sixth of Meeker County population is age 55-64

County profile update

Commissioners of the Meeker County Board received a county profile update from February 2019, containing a plethora of interesting facts about Meeker at its May 7 meeting.

The predominant age group in the county is 55-64 with 15.1 percent of our citizens falling in that age range, according to the profile. The next largest age group surprisingly is the 5-14 age group, encompassing 14.1 percent of Meeker’s citizens. Statistics showed Meeker’s population to be 23,131, of whom 97 percent are white.

Figures showed just a 1.8 percent unemployment rate for residents in the prime working age of 45-54 years. Meeker’s overall unemployment rate in February was down to 2.9 percent. Forty-six percent of Meeker’s workers the report showed are employed outside the county.

Other matters

The board approved a conditional use permit for the Sparboe Companies, clearing away for the demolition of six existing poultry layer buildings and the construction of two new poultry layer buildings at the firm’s site just off Highway 12 east of Litchfield.

The CUP also covers the construction of a concrete bunker for solid manure loadout and one totally enclosed solid manure loading and storage building. The project had been previously approved by the County Planning and Zoning Commission.

Personnel-related matters

The board agreed to an independent contractor arrangement with Carmen Patino to provide Spanish interpretive services as needed to the social services and the Meeker County Sheriff’s Department at $32.72 per hour.

Fourth-graders learn how to save money

It’s never too early to learn how to count, save and use money the right way.

At least that’s what Paula Dunn’s class demonstrates. Dunn, a fourth-grade math, reading and grammar teacher at ACGC elementary school, has taught her students about money management for about 10 years.

She currently teaches a class of 17 students between the ages of 9 and 10. She uses a mock monetary system called Dunn Dough, which helps combine learning, character development and motivation. Dunn uses play dollar bills that her mother purchased at a garage sale in Arizona.

“Well, it is my classroom management system,” Dunn said. “It’s mostly for behavior, things that every single kid can do daily. It’s not graded or based on grade, because that’s not always equal for kids.”

Students receive Dunn Dough for meeting goals on Accelerated Reader, software that tests students on books read and gives them points based on the book’s reading level and amount of questions they answer correctly about the book. Students also earn money by making sure to have their planners signed by their parents. Dunn said this teaches responsibility, how to stay organized and get in a routine.

“They can be very motivated when it comes to dollars,” she said. “I think it is a good motivator for them. It’s a tangible thing that they can end up with in the end.”

Sometimes, students spend too much. Austin Hanson, one of Dunn’s students from Atwater, said that one day in class he didn’t have any money because he had a lot of “IOU’s.”

“(It’s) when you do something, and then you don’t have enough money to pay for it,” Hanson said. “And then you have to get a little piece of paper and write ‘IOU.’”

An IOU is used when a student has no money. They could have spent it all at the auction and just don’t have any built up, Dunn said.

“They’ve run out of money because they’ve had to pay me for various things — not having their planner signed, forgetting to put their name on their paper — are ways they may lose money. They can’t borrow money. If they have an IOU, they gradually pay it off as they earn money. After the end of the quarter auction, IOUs are forgiven,” Dunn said.

Learning about character

Dunn did not always conduct her class like this. In fact, she started out the system more academically.

“I found that’s not always conducive to every child because every child learns differently,” she said.

Academics are shifting more toward focusing on students’ characters in addition to learning the subject matter, Dunn said.

“When I say character traits, I mean like who you are as a person, good citizenship skills ... I think schools are going toward really putting an emphasis on (these skills),” she said.

While students are learning about good character traits, the lesson also teaches responsibility. Students learn about patience, restraint, saving their money for bigger purchases and the effects of spending it all at once. Student Aubrey Bautista said she sometimes has a lot of Dunn Dough, but other times does not.

“So, most of the time I really pick and choose what (I) really want,” she said.

Prizes purchased with Dunn Dough

Three of the ACGC elementary teachers use the same system, but they have different names for their currency. So, the dollars the students earn can be used in all fourth-grade classrooms.

“Every quarter, my kids earn money, $1-$5 usually, for academics or for behaviors,” Dunn said. “And then, at the end of the quarter they get to spend that money that they saved on different items that I sell at an auction, which I usually do myself.”

In Dunn’s classroom, she has several coveted items that students can purchase with their Dunn Dough. A bag of bubble gum was bid out for $80. Another student bought a squirt gun, which Dunn allowed him to shoot her with for $72.

“I have like, cool pens, or one of the prizes is getting to sit at the high-top (chair) for the day, instead of their desk,” Dunn said.

Students also can purchase things cooperatively. They can pool their money together and buy something to share.

If the students were to put all their money together, they could buy extra recess or buy off an assignment.

“They wouldn’t have to do math one day,” Dunn said. “That will be one of the last things they get to bid on.”

Dunn’s students learn life skills through her monetary system as she teaches them the value of a dollar — or the value of a Dunn Dough.